– a collection of mini food essays –
Food, glorious, food – it goes so far beyond just being a means of fuel and nutrition.
It’s an anchor that brings us together to celebrate, socialise and connect. It has deep cultural ties; reflecting not only a countries history, but its beliefs, values and lifestyle too.
It can be nostalgic, helping us understand our family and roots; a mouthful taking us back to a moment. It can be an expression of heritage, with traditional foods, skills and techniques passed down generation to generation – a way to preserve history, through taste.
Different foods – their availability and preparation, as well as our dietary habits – vary so significantly, both between and within countries, that getting immersed in the local food scene is an educational experience in itself!
Just for fun – here’s a collection of mini essays on food adventures, famed global dishes, and what to eat, visit and do; from travels afar and at home…because my foodie hat is my favourite to wear.
EAT: BLACK (CUTTLEFISH) RISOTTO AKA CRNI RIZOT
Pitch black, and almost a little scary looking, crni rižot is a seafood rice dish that’s as intensely flavourful as it is aromatic. It’s arguably not for the faint-hearted, possibly polarising, but ultimately an art and delicacy – it’s an absolute must-eat when venturing to Croatia.
With the base quite typical to a classic risotto recipe (exempting the addition of diced cuttlefish), the midnight black hue comes from richly dense squid/cuttlefish ink, added nearing the end of preparation (best when using fresh ink from your cephalopod of choice!).
Being seafood-derived, the dish is traditionally and commonly found in coastal Croatia, widely served across the endless restaurants dotted up and down the coastline.
Of course, no one makes it better than your family or second best being a small local restaurant. We had ours lovingly cooked by relatives with freshly cooked bread to mop up all the black risotto – domaci (homestyle) is unbeatable.
Deep-fried pastry doused in icing sugar. What’s not to love?
Crispy and sweet, kroštule are a traditional knotted ribbon-shaped pastry originating from the Dalmatian and Istria regions of Croatia.
The ingredients list is a simple collection of items you’ll find in any Croatian’s kitchen – flour, sugar, egg yolks, butter; something tasty to add flavour, like grated zest of local oranges and lemons, or a liquor; all lovingly mixed into a dough.
The dough is rolled thin until almost transparent, cut into strips, scored and folded into an assortment of shapes. There’s full permission to get creative with presentation – knot it, twist it, tie it in a bow. Release your inner kitchen Micheangelo! Each piece is then lowered into hot oil to be fried, with thousands of air bubbles captured into a crispy golden pastry.
Kroštule are usually served with a dusting of icing sugar, as the perfect accompaniment with early morning black coffee. I was lucky to have a tutorial from my 85 year old great aunt in Croatia on how to make them.
VISIT: BOROUGH MARKET
If you’re short on time during your stay in London, Borough Market tops the list as your foodie must-visit. As London’s most renowned food and beverage market, impressively dating back to at least the 12th century (but legends say more like 1012!), it’s the mother of artisan markets – a cornucopia of gourmet global goodies, talented food producers and high quality ingredients.
Snake through stands of fishmongers and butchers; towering loaves of breads and smelly cheeses, delectable patisseries, and colourful food stalls selling fare inspired from all four corners of the world.
It’s the perfect outing no matter whether you’re on the hunt for the latest food trend, shopping for ingredients to cook up a storm, or are just plain old hungry. Top tip: it’s noisy and crowded, so come earlier in the day for shorter lines and a little breathing space, especially on the weekend.
This was a favourite spot to visit while living in London. I’d load up my belly while simultaneously collecting an extravaganza of snacks to take on the tube home for later – single slices of cheesecake, homemade chocolate truffles, and tubs of exotic mushroom risotto to-go. Find Borough market at 8 Southwark St in London.
EAT: CREAM TEA
Cream tea has nothing to do with adding cream to your cuppa, though one might suspect. It’s a sweet twist on the classic afternoon tea, consisting of a pot of freshly made tea served with scones topped with clotted cream and fruity jam – and a rightful British institution it is!
For proper cream tea you must abide to the following: the scones should be warm and ideally freshly baked, and the cream always clotted – that being, a silky, yellow cream with a distinctive surface crust – over whipped. While you can switch up jam-flavours, strawberry is the loved reigning champion of cream tea jams.
There are regional variations to how cream tea should be served, and if you want to start a great debate query this in England. The Devonian method involves topping the scone with clotted cream and THEN jam; while the Cornish method involves topping it with jam and THEN cream. Talk about a question to prod the bear!
My cream tea experience was quite hilarious – I had a scone and tea (in a takeaway cup though, sadly) in the garden at Buckingham Palace after a State Rooms tour. How British. As for the scone…Devonian method!
EAT: FISH AND CHIPS
Fish ‘n’ chips are classic kiwi tucker – I’ve eaten many of the newspaper-clad takeaways in my lifetime. However, despite long-standing popularity in our neck of the woods, they’re of British heritage.
They first appeared in the UK in the 1860’s, quickly becoming a prominent takeaway, being an appealing mix of cheap, easily accessible, tasty, comforting and filling.
Preparation-wise, there are a few considerations for nailing traditional fish and chips. Chips are usually cut thick. The fish batter is a simple mix of water and flour, with a little baking soda and vinegar for lightness. Cod and haddock is the most common seafood used in Britain (but expect snapper or gurnard on the menu up in the North Island of NZ!). Once freshly cooked and piping hot, the meal is often smothered in salt and soused with vinegar – and don’t forget a side of mushy peas too!
My fish and chips experience was at Hook in Camden Town, London – a Lonely Planet guide recommendation. They work 100% with sustainable small fisheries and ethically-focused food suppliers across UK, and their menu is scratch-cooked daily on site.
Picture perfect and notoriously tricky to make; at least for me.
‘Mack-a-ROHNS’ consist of two sweet meringue-based cookies (a concoction of egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, ground almond, and food colouring), that deliciously sandwich either a ganache, buttercream, caramel or jam – easy enough to scoff in just a few bites.
They’re delectable, dainty, and very ‘fairy-tale’ looking. They’re often presented in a plethora of soft pastels and every flavour under the taste bud rainbow; from classic chocolate and pistachio, to wilder variations like sesame matcha. Texture-wise, the shell is hard but totally easy to sink your teeth into, with the inner having a slight chew to it.
Travelling through Paris you’ll have zero trouble finding macarons…they’ll find you at one of the many Parisian patisseries. These pretty thangs were from the quintessential Ladurée – Champs Elysées, Paris. Très délicieux!
EAT: FRENCH ONION SOUP
A beautiful, iconic French soup based on meat stock (typically beef) and onions – a lot of onions. Good luck trying not to cry when slicing.
To prepare French onion soup, onions are cooked slowly until they’ve deeply caramelised; becoming sweet and jammy, and a nice, dark even brown colour. Of course, caramelisation means flavour, so time must be taken to build a delicious, deep, flavourful base – don’t rush the onions.
A steaming bowlful is often served gratinéed, where cheese is melted overtop a piece of bread or croûte that’s dunked and submerged in the soup. While the soup alone is delicious, this truly elevates it to a god-like state.
I ate (slurped?) my French onion soup at a chic Parisian bistro somewhere along the Seine river. Check out that gloriously golden melted cheese!
In the motherland of gelato, there’s no better accomplice on a dreamy Italian summer’s day than a scoop (or two, or three…) of the good stuff itself.
However, in the name of the good stuff, not all gelato is equal. Preparing it is a craft and skill, and just because one’s enjoying a scoop in Italy doesn’t mean it’s necessary authentic, or even that tasty – and boo to sub par gelato when in Rome! Some gelateria will pass off average, factory-made as the real deal; when what we’re after is gelato that’s artisan, fresh and hand-made anew each morning. When the hunt for your next icy treat always, always:
Go for muted colours, avoid those bright or fluorescent – a high proportion of natural ingredients means little or no added colouring. Banana’s aren’t bright yellow, so neither should be banana gelato!
Check if the fruit flavours are in season – they should be!
Keep an eye out for ingredient list on display – a clear sign of a gelateria’s commitment to quality.
Look for gelato served in flat metal tins, ideally with lids and avoid plastic tubs. Lids are a good sign as it showcases respect for the product – the gelato is being held at the perfect temperature.
This gelato was from FataMorgana in Rome – the basil flavour had real specks of basil in it!
Carbonara is total hedonism in a bite. Pasta & pecorino cheese, what’s not to love? It’s the ultimate comfort food, with a forkful enough to make me throw my head back to the foodie gods in pure sublime bliss.
There’s competing theories around the origin of carbonara. Some vouch it’s a Roman dish, created from food rations distributed by Allied troops in WWII after the 1944 liberation of Rome – that being powdered egg and bacon. Another is that carbonaro (the Italian word for ‘charcoal burner‘) was first prepared as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers (with a spin-off theory being that the abundant use of coarsely black pepper resembles coal flakes!).
There’s a basic conscience on the dishes fundaments – pecorino romano (a hard salty cheese), eggs, cured fatty pork (typically guanciale, an Italian cured meat made from pork jowl or cheek) and black pepper. To prepare, raw eggs, cheese and pepper are mixed with hot pasta to begin cooking the eggs (away from direct heat to avoid curdling). Fried pork is then added, and together with the egg yolks (a powerful emulsifier) they bind to create a silky smooth sauce, with no separation.
While you’ll find cream added to many carbonara’s worldwide don’t be fooled thinking this is traditional. When in Rome we made this dish with a local Italian, who told us “if we ever added cream to carbonara he’ll have the Italian police arrest us”. Noted.
Tiramisu is a glorious coffee-flavoured Italian dessert, with the literal meaning of ‘cheer me up’.
Traditional tiramisu is made from a short concise ingredients list. Ladyfinger biscuits (a dry sweet sponge) are dipped into coffee; then layered with a whipped yellowy, rich, velvety mix of eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese, flavoured with cocoa powder. Sometimes alcohol is added, often marsala a sweet red wine. When constructing, a rectangular or square pan works well for ‘tiling’ the skinny uniformed rectangular ladyfingers, but a round dish is more traditional!
Flavour-wise expect a spoonful to be sweet but not overly, and balanced with just the right amount of bitterness from the cocoa and coffee. We ate much tiramisu in Italy. These were from a must-visit in Rome, ZUM, who we visited twice.
Ravioli – aka pillows of deliciousness – are a type of pasta comprised of a filling enveloped between two layers of thin pasta dough. Stemming back to the 14th century, the word ravioli is derived from the Italian word riavvolgere, meaning “to wrap”.
Traditionally ravioli are homemade, with fillings reflective of the local area e.g. in Rome it’s often a mix of ricotta cheese, spinach, nutmeg and black pepper; whereas in Sardinia, west of mainland Italy, they’re more likely stuffed with ricotta and grated lemon rind. While hard to beat homemade, they’re also made on mass by machine, to be freshly packed or canned, and stocked extensively worldwide. One must get their pasta fix in the modern world after all.
All ravioli start with pasta dough, kneaded into a smooth consistency, before being rested and rolled out. Small spoonfuls of filling are dotted along a sheet, which is then sandwiched with another. They’re often cut-square, but can be circular or semi-circular, and served boiled, typically in pasta sauce or broth. Delizioso!
We ate our ravioli in Rome, Italy; like expected they were ricotta and spinach filled.
Surely a crème de la crème food-fun activity, you’d be hard pushed to find a more immersive foodie experience than crafting your own fresh pasta from scratch in the motherland itself.
A traditional pasta-making experiences will have you preparing your own fresh pasta dough, rolling and cutting it into shapes, and, hopefully, a little local insight from your teacher into the preparation and historical importance of one of the most iconic foods to ever be synonymous with a country – all before, cooking and serving your pasta in a delicious sauce that’s just begging for a fork to dive into it *drool*.
Ingredients-wise, fresh pasta is usually made with a simple mix of eggs, semolina flour, salt and water. To prepare, you need just your hands or aid from simple machines or tools. With the latter, the pasta’s manually fed into the machine where it’s rolled and thinned incrementally, with a final-run through ‘comb’ shaping it into thick or thin strands – fun!
We did our pasta-making experience in Rome, at a local Italian’s apartment next door to the Pantheon. Here, we prepared and cooked three-kinds of pasta – carbonara, ravioli and spaghetti – then ate bottomless bowls, washed down with a big glass of red wine. Heaven.
EAT: WHITEBAIT FRITTER
A simple, yet prized, kiwi delicacy – especially when served with buttered white bread and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Chur!
A whitebait fritter is essentially an omelette prepared with a healthy ratio of whitebait to egg; the whitebait being an immature newly hatched fish, harvested when only 25-50mm long. A little flour might be added, and of course S&P, but otherwise simple does it!
Whitebait are a spendy seafood; the most expensive in NZ per kilo when on the market, with a few factors contributing. They’re caught during a small legally fixed seasonal window, only occurring once a year during their migration. They’re notoriously tough to catch, with whitebaiters needing to constantly attend to nets. Finally, there are strict regulated control on net sizes, to help promote healthy stock. With degradation of our waterways by agriculture, urbanisation and forest clearance, levels of whitebait catch are declining – currently, four of five whitebait species are classified by the NZ Department of Conservation as endangered.
I’ve had a few whitebait fritters in my time, with this deliciously plump one from the Whitebait Inn in Mokau.
EAT: MANUKA HONEY
While there are hundreds honey types in circulation globally, NZ is world-famous for one in particular – the queen (bee) of honey, mānuka.
Mānuka is a monofloral honey (honey made from the nectar of one plant), produced from the mānuka tree. This tree is indigenous to NZ and strongly intertwined into Maori traditional and natural medicine.
Mānuka has a special reputation regarding potential health benefits, particularly its antibacterial power, supported by an extensive range of scientific studies. Because of this, there’s an industry-led standard that grades a mānuka honey’s purity and quality, found on a products label, known as the UMF or MGO rating. As the rating on the jar increases (e.g. UMF10+ UMF 12+…) so does the antibacterial power of the honey.
Looks wise, mānuka is markedly viscous; with a golden amber colour. It has a characteristic aroma, a mix of nutty, damp and earthy, and is, of course, sweet – but with a slightly bitter aftertaste. In the kitchen, spread it the classic way on toast, use in baking to sweeten and add depth of flavour; mix into drinks, like a hot lemon ginger over winter; or even just enjoy a sneaky teaspoon direct from the jar. We’ve all done it.
As a tourist, eating haggis is a rightful contender on any Scottish bucket-list. Like visiting Loch Ness to spy Nessie, it has to be done – at least once!
If you’re yet to encounter haggis, it’s a savoury concoction of sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced together with spices, salt, oatmeal, onion, suet and stock; that has been boiled, or baked, or deep-fried encased in an animals stomach. Sure, it may not sound the prettiest – but I can vouch, it’s offal-y good (ba-dum-tss).
As the national dish of the Scotland, it’s suggested to date back to the 1400’s, where its roots were possibly food-waste related. Cooking the quick-spoiling offal near the site of a hunt – by chopping it up, stuffing it in the animals stomach with whatever fillers were on hand, and then finally boiling it – ensured these parts weren’t wasted before taking the rest of the home kill back to base.
Haggis is traditionally served with ‘neeps’ and ‘tatties’ (parsnips and potatoes) that have been boiled and mashed, along with a dram (a glass of Scottish Whisky). We ate it at a traditional Scottish restaurant in ever-charming Edinburgh.
EAT: CARAMEL APPLE
Caramel apples – your new favourite (arguably virtuous?) autumnal treat. They’re common around fall season and Halloween, and are a dreamy flavour-texture match – the chewy soft sweet caramel balances the crisp tart apple perfectly.
Caramel apples are prepared by taking an apple, inserting a long stick into its bottom end, rolling now apple-on-a-stick in hot caramel, and allowing to cool. Apple-wise, crisp apples, like Granny Smith, are recommended over grainer-textured varieties.
A Kraft employee names Dan Walker is credited to the creation of caramel apples, which came into fruition somewhere in the 1950’s. Supposedly, he was experimenting with soft caramels leftover from Halloween, and one thing lead to another. Kraft, who sells small individually wrapped caramels, still print their recipe for caramel apples on the back of the bag today!
I had my caramel apple experience at Grandma’s Diary Candy Store and Ice Cream Parlour in Boulder City, Nevada. Dare you not to make “mhmm, oooh, yummm”‘ noises as you bite into one…so good!
EAT: PUMPKIN PIE
Pumpkin pie is a dessert pie filled with a spiced pumpkin-based custard filling. While the idea of something so vegetal for dessert might feel wrong, pumpkin pie is so right (just like carrot cake).
It’s a hallmark of Thanksgiving in the US (where during the season you’ll find pumpkin-spiced everything…from lattes through to donuts); symbolic of harvest time, and generally eaten during fall or early winter.
To prepare, ‘pie pumpkins’ are typically used, which are, naturally, pumpkins good to make pie with. The purée can be prepped from scratch by baking and puréeing pumpkin, but often canned puréed varieties are used in households as they’re speedy and trusted consistency-wise. The purée is mixed with eggs, evaporated and/or condensed milk, sugar and the inaugural pumpkin pie spice – a mix containing nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Look-wise, the pie can range in colour from brown to orange, and is baked in a single stellar pie shell, rarely with a top crust.
I had my pumpkin pie in an American household, during an early Thanksgiving dinner with friends; including basted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and of course, Thanksgiving gratitudes.
EAT: A HAMBURGER
You’d be hard-pushed to find a better meal than a well-executed burger. When you have juices dripping down your arm, and every bite is the perfect ratio of fresh bun to perfectly seasoned meat patty to crisp salad to gooey cheese…gah, so hedonic.
There’s great debate over when, how and where the hamburger was first created. While bread and beef had been consumed separately in other countries for years (the hamburger patty coming out of Hamburg), it was the sandwiching of the two around the 19th or 20th century that’s generally attributed to the USA. Following the rise of industrialism, hamburgers gained massive popularity, with hungry workers able to order and easily chomp one down on breaks.
The burger, the now poster child for fast food, is ever-popular today. Find it on the menu at takeaway bars, diners, restaurants, eateries, and burger bars globally – it’s probably one of the more recognised dishes worldwide. While some like it greasy and processed (no judgement); for me, quality ingredients is what elevates a burger to dream-like.
This one pictured was utterly perfect…I had it at Eureka! in Claremont Village, California; an all-American scratch kitchen, focused on celebrating local quality ingredients.
EAT: KEY LIME PIE
One of America’s most loved regional dishes, key lime pie traces back to the early 20th century in Key West, Florida. Here, the small, but aromatic, key limes that give the pie its signature tart-tangy taste, abundantly grow.
Traditional key lime pie filling is a simple concoction of lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks. History tots its origin back to Key West sponge fisherman, who spent long periods at sea without modern refrigeration methods – so they had to get creative with on-board long-life ingredients.
With limited oven access, the pie was traditionally a no-bake. For culinary whizzes – instead, a chemical reaction occurs between egg yolk protein, condensed milk and acidic lime juice, thickening the filling. However, today, due to food safety, pies are usually baked for a short time. Be careful with assumptions – under no, and I mean no, circumstances should green food colouring be added to the mix. The true authentic colour is a light yellow, the colour of key lime juice.
My slice of key lime pie was from a tradition pie shop in the California – sweet, but tangy.
EAT: COBB SALAD
There’s a few stories surrounding how Cobb Salad came to fruition. My favourite, and the one that pops up the most, is that in 1937 a hungry man was rummaging through the large fridge of the Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant kitchen (a chain of restaurants in LA), likely a chef or the restaurant owner, wondering what to do with leftovers. He stumbled across leafy greens, tomatoes, cheese, boiled eggs, grilled chicken, chives and crispy bacon – which together, with a simple red wine vinaigrette, made a pretty darn good salad. Not long after, it adorned the menu and was an immediate hit.
Authentic versions of Cobb often include four varieties of leafy greens: iceberg lettuce, endive, romaine and watercress. Roquefort is the cheese of choice, but others like cheddar or Monterey Jack may also be used. Plating-wise, the ingredients of a Cobb Salad are finely chopped and often laid in very composed, dramatic, self-contained strips across the lettuce base (though my snap wasn’t here, you can expect it!). I ate my Cobb Salad in Cali, where it’s found across countless restaurant and diner menus today.